Mayor Bill de Blasio struck back at claims made by the Justice Department that the policy of clearing homelessness encampments—one pursued by the NYPD and other local law enforcement agencies nationwide—may be unconstitutional.
The liberal Democratic mayor pointed out today that Zachary Carter, the corporation counsel and chief legal officer for the city, was a U.S. Attorney under the Clinton administration and has advised the NYPD that the clearances and cleanings of 21 colonies of the indigent are legal. Mr. de Blasio highlighted that many of the sites had hosted settlements of homeless for more than a decade, and reaffirmed his belief that the oft-criticized “broken windows” approach of cracking down on quality of life offenses was the correct approach.
“I couldn’t disagree more on the constitutionality, and our team has been working very closely on this,” he said. “Why were these encampments tolerated year after year, decade after decade in this city? They are not humane. They’re not fair to the people in them, and they’re not fair to the surrounding communities.”
“Mattresses in the open air, and then lots of other people coming in the mid-day to do drugs together. That’s not tolerable, that’s not acceptable,” he continued.
But the mayor acknowledged that the Justice Department would be correct if the encampment sweep-ups would be unconstitutional if social service workers didn’t join police and sanitation crews at the sites to offer drug and mental illness treatment. Mr. de Blasio insisted his team had connected many homeless people with assistance.
“Where I think the Obama administration has a fair point is if you don’t accompany the removal of the encampments with intensive services to the clients, then you end up creating a fiction where the encampment’s gone, but people are wandering the streets without help,” he said, contrasting that with the city’s tactics. “We went into those areas with a very vigorous outreach program.”
Liberal groups like Picture the Homeless have savaged Mr. de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton for the clearings, which—echoing the Obama administration—they argue violate the civil rights of the indigent. But the mayor insisted that, on top of offers of social services, his teams tipped off the homeless that their hangout would be wiped up multiple times in advance
“There were numerous, numerous announcements made when the clean-up would happen,” he said. “It’s 2015 in New York City, we’re not going to tolerate you know, a permanent encampment.”